Author Megan Abbott has simmered just shy of the limelight in a slow burn for several years now, gaining more attention with each novel and acquiring a cult-like fan base in the process. Known for her neo-noir depiction of the American teenage girl, Abbott pulls no punches: she does not write feel-good YA. She plumbs the depth of the teen psyche and the result can be downright repulsive and yet still captivating. It is a combination that leaves little room for reader ambivalence. One either loves it or hates it.
No matter which camp you fall into, Abbott's talent is undeniable. Her 2008 novel Queenpin was the recipient of a prestigious Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original and her subsequent novels, including Bury Me Deep, The End of Everything, and Dare Me each received critical and popular acclaim.
Her newest release, The Fever, returns to what she knows best: the teenage psyche. When unexplained seizures start afflicting some local high school girls, one by one, a community is stricken with fear. The Nash family, in particular, is hit hard. Tom is a teacher at the high school where his two children, Eli and Deenie, are both popular students. The stricken girls, in fact, are all a part of Deenie's close circle of friends. In small towns, gossip runs deep and strong. Family secrets won't stay secret forever.
As one after another of Deenie's friends falls prey to this unknown disease - virus? supernatural? bacteria? vaccination reaction? - the town grows more and more explosive. Fingers are pointed, secrets are exposed, paranoia ensues.
Drawing from Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Abbott tries to recreate the contagious panic of hormone-driven, teen-girl angst, but falls a bit short here. What made her previous novels so memorable was her ability to dig deeper than the typical, superficial - and hence, ubiquitous - teen motivations. Abbott unnerves us because we are uncomfortable with the thought that teenagers, irritating and shallow though they may sometimes appear, can be driven by desires as dark and twisted as the most jaded adult. The Fever fails in this regard. Without revealing any important plot details, it is enough to say that where Abbott usually succeeds, here she falls back on trite teen cliches.
Her plot, however, is still taut, the writing still tense, and a frenzied apex still present -- all elements that are sure to please readers, but long-time Abbott fans are likely to feel slightly let down. For those who haven't yet read her work, Dare Me would be a far better choice to delve into Abbott's brilliance since The Fever tends to read like just another - albeit well-written - YA thriller.
Recommended with the understanding that it's not Abbott's best work.
Title: The Fever
Author: Megan Abbott
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Date: June 17, 2013
Source: Copy provided by publisher